Borderline case: Brexit forces bus firm to open back door into North
Frustrated Donegal businessman left stranded due to lack of clarity
Don Reddin, owner of Reddin’s Coach Hire in Muff, Co Donegal. The Border, runs through his bus yard. Photograph: Freya McClements
Donegal businessman Don Reddin is worried about Brexit. So much so he has spent £200,000 on a back door into Northern Ireland. He owns Reddin’s Coach Hire in Muff, Co Donegal, and the Border runs through his bus yard and back garden.
To the left of his maintenance shed there are a few hundred metres of freshly laid tarmac leading to a brand new gate.
Reddin says nearby Derry city is his biggest market, and if the Border were to close, leaving him on the wrong side, his business “would be more or less finished.
“I have 20 employees, and I could honestly say that if a hard Border went up and we were left on the other side I would have to let 16 of those employees go because we would have no marketplace, we would have no work.”
If there’s a hard Border we’ll have to use the gate to the North to avoid delays at customs
Instead, Reddin plans to operate two companies – one in the North and one in the South.
The Northern-registered buses will be kept in the UK yard and use the new Derry gate, while the Southern-registered buses will remain on the Republic side, with buses coming and going through the existing entrance in Donegal.
“If there’s a hard Border we’ll have to use the gate to the North to avoid delays at customs, because our work is all about time, you don’t have time to sit at checkpoints,” he says.
“I remember sitting at customs checks for hours at a time, waiting to get over the Border . . . The school authorities would only accept those excuses for so long before you find you’ve lost your contracts and destroyed your good name you’ve built up in business for the last 20 or 30 years.”
Angry and frustrated
Reddin’s father started the company in 1972, and Don took over 20 years later.
He is angry and frustrated by the continuing uncertainty surrounding Brexit - and by the failure of politicians to provide leadership or clarity over the issue.
“Did you hear David Davis?” Reddin asks, referring to a speech by the British Brexit secretary. He told Austrian business leaders on Tuesday that Britain would not be “plunged into a Mad Max-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction” after leaving the EU.
“So you’re a foreign investor and you’re listening to the Brexit secretary and he’s talking about Mad Max,” says Reddin.
“It’s disappointing and upsetting that that was the best comment the Brexit secretary could come up with . . . When I see Boris Johnston on the TV and I just think, oh my God, do you realise what you’re doing?
“I’d like someone to show me a plan, somebody to tell me why this is a good idea, what the positive is in all of this, but nobody has given me that reassurance.”
My market is the local area, I can’t go to China to start lifting schoolchildren and taking them to school
Some reassurance, Reddin says, would have allowed him to invest money in new buses for his fleet rather than in a contingency plan of tarmac, fences and gates so he has access to his main market.
Reddin’s kitchen window overlooks his new Brexit bus yard, and the first thing he does at work every morning is check the currency prices. “Every time Brexit is discussed the currency fluctuates, it’s like being on the worst rollercoaster ever.”
Reddin says it angers him when he hears politicians saying things like “widen your horizons”.
“We’re people who have made the effort and taken the bold step of going into business, and then you have career politicians insulting our integrity by telling us there’s a big world out there for business,” he says. “My market is the local area, I can’t go to China to start lifting schoolchildren and taking them to school.”
He recalls days when if you were crossing the Border with a bicycle there was a chance customs officers would take it from you. He does not want to revisit those times, but believes there’s no alternative.
“All the politicians say they don’t want a hard Border, but if the UK is leaving the customs union and the single market then there has to be a hard Border.
“What’s the point of leaving otherwise, because then you’ve left a main entry point into the UK open, and if they leave that open they may well just stay in the EU and forget the whole thing.”